Kalamazoo’s eclectic musical group Saxsquatch & Bridge Band is coming out with a new album called “Apogee.” They’ll have a release show on Saturday, March 3 at 9 p.m. at Bell’s Brewery. Their sound is a mix of jazz, funk, rock, hip-hop, and more.
Saxophone player Jarad Selner — nicknamed Saxsquatch for his height and bushy beard — officially started the band with his brothers in 2011. Selner is also the owner of Selner Bros. Music.
Brothers Leave Band After Recording New Album
Saxsquatch & Bridge Band's new album “Apogee” marks the end of an era. Though the band has had multiple drummers over the years and even had a horn section once — the one constant was the Selner brothers: Jarad, Jakab, and Jarab.
But with Jakab going to medical school and Jarab attending to another musical project, they decided to part ways with the Bridge Band last year.
Before they did, they recorded the band's new album "Apogee" which will be released on Saturday. Selner says he’s enjoyed his time with them.
“Not because they’re my brothers, they also are both really good — Jakab’s the bassist and Jarab’s a guitar player — they’re both really really good musicians and some of my favorite guys on those instruments,” he said.
Though Saxsquatch & Bridge Band is excited about the future, tomorrow’s release is a bit bittersweet. Selner says the title of the album, “Apogee,” has a double meaning for him.
It’s the name of a video game company he and his brother liked when they were kids, but the word itself means “the highest point in the development of something.”
“So to me it was, ‘Ok, this is the last time I’ll be able to maybe ever record with both of my brothers on a record," said Selner.
"I’m super lucky that I have gotten to spend six years playing with them. Even luckier that I got to record two records with my brothers. But the reality is, as we all move in different directions, this might never happen again. So to me, that was definitely the apogee for that group.”
Developing Their Unique Sound
Selner says he and his brothers like to listen to Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and other classic rock as well as some blues and progressive rock. But instead of picking up your standard rock instrument, Selner was drawn to the saxophone.
The band is a mix of all of these influences, but in a way you might not have heard before. It’s all within a jazz structure. Selner says it works like this: He makes up a melody and accompanying harmonies and then the rest of the band improvises around them — going back to the melody once in a while.
“He just throws it out there and plays it for us and we all kind of take it and digest it in our own way,” said drummer Will Benoit.
“Then it’s my responsibility as a drummer to come up with a drum beat for it. And so it’s going to have my own personal influences which is more rock leaning, more funk leaning, kind of hip-hop leaning as well.”
Benoit says the tunes Selner makes take on a whole new life as each member of the band's personal influences come out.
New Band Members Bring New Styles
“Apogee” was recorded with the original lineup. But now the band has two new members who bring their own flavors to the group. Guitarist Andrew Saliba plays in the local electronic jazz and hip-hop band Lushh and Matthew Milowe also plays bass for Kalamazoo bands Cold Mountain Child and Less Is More.
Will Benoit says where Jakab was more improvisational, Milowe has become a kind of glue for the band.
“He pays a lot of attention to the rhythm section and being the rhythm section and really syncing up with me on drums," said Benoit.
"When Matt joined, it just really felt like I was actually being amplified on the drums because he was really playing with me, what I was doing on my drum parts. And then I was in turn able to play along with him as well and just really lock in as the rhythm section backbone for the group.”
Band Members Evolving As Musicians
Selner says the new album — only their second ever produced — also shows how the band members have grown. On their first recording, called “Territories,” Benoit played drum parts that the band’s previous drummer had written. This time, he says, the drums are all his own.
“It just felt a little more organic. Also just my drumming had I think improved over time — as it should hopefully for any musician,” said Benoit.
Selner — who envisioned the band as largely instrumental — also branched out and started writing lyrics:
“Cause words are important and they matter and they have meanings. And I like to write words, I write a lot of poems. And actually I’ve written songs for other bands as well. I guess the big challenge for me was taking this music I write for this band and trying to fit vocal melodies over the top. It’s interesting, it’s different. And then making words that make sense and also fit thematically with the music.”
Planning Their Next Release
In it's first album "Territories," the band recorded live all in the same room. For "Apogee," Benoit says they isolated the instruments for a cleaner sound. For their next album — which Selner says is already in its early stages — they want to go back to that live recording process, but in a much bigger way.
Selner says he was inspired by guitarist Andrew Saliba’s other band, Lushh, which recorded their album Insight/Unsought in front of a live audience. Selner says they had things like digital visualizations of the music.
“Videos that played on a projector while they had two painters live paint during the sets," Selner explains. "While they had a full horn section and a couple strings as well accompanied their five piece and wrote all original compositions that Andrew had penned. So it was this big thing.”
Selner says the band will do a few music festivals this summer — though lineups have not been officially announced. You can see Saxsquatch & Bridge Band Saturday night at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. Its new album, “Apogee,” is available online as well as on cassette tape.